Mirrors are not always kind, especially if we are Snow White or we are getting older. Still, we find them very useful in being able to see things about ourselves that otherwise are hard to recognize.
The letters Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth serve as a mirror for Christians today. Surprisingly, the mirror of 1 Corinthians says that many believers are far more worldly than anyone wants to admit. If you have ever heard anyone present themselves as a Methodist minister, or Catholic Priest, or Baptist member, or Pentecostal missionary, then you likely have heard a repeat of the problem that infected those early Christians in Corinth.
The Corinthian Christians were rebuked for taking sides in their faith, for claiming a sub-identity in Christ as followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or other popular leaders. They were corrected for promoting a divided Christ:
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:1-3)
That is a disturbing reflection of passionate Christians who have sought local membership in congregations, taken on identities as followers of specific denominations, promoted allegiance to human leaders, and claimed belief in preferred doctrines.
When mirrors don’t tell people what they want to hear, they avoid looking in them, or often smash them, or ridicule, reject, and even abuse those who point out their flaws. Do you see yourself in this mirror? The evidence of history shows that most professing Christians take sides and form allegiances to people and groups other than just Christ himself.
It was to these Corinthians that Paul declared:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus”. (1 Cor 2:27,30)
Christians belong only to Jesus, not to any group or person. They become believers because of the work of the Holy Spirit, not because of any preacher, or friend, or self-study. For sure, God uses people and servants to spread the gospel, but they are not the cause or reason for faith, and should never become our identity in contrast to other Christians. We are told to limit our allegiances to leaders “as they follow Christ”, which implies an ongoing and constant measuring to the word of God, as well as changes to our fellowship when the two don’t line up.
It is well observed that those early Christians living in Corinth were both passionate and messed up in their beliefs and practices. Rather than striving “to agree with one another”, they took sides and claimed to follow leaders and teachings that were preferable to each of them. In so doing, they demonstrated such an extent of infantile immaturity that they were shown to be immersed in worldly sin and distorted thinking.
All Christians who claim the same kind of divisional thinking and preferences for doctrinal explanations of some group or person other than Christ and his Church are mere infants in need of repenting and starting all over again:
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s world all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:11-14)
No matter how much Bible knowledge a person may have learned, such infants don’t actually understand the foundation of righteousness in the gospel.
Traditions and people are often worthy of our respect and honor for their contribution and service to our faith, but never are they to fill that singular devotion to Jesus. Believers are intended to all belong to the same Body, to the one people of God, to one head, through one Spirit, with one profession of doctrinal belief.
This is not about a call for a singular organized church, which implies a hierarchy of human leadership, which is not reflected in Scripture. Rather, it is a call to unity and oneness between believers, regardless of the locations, traditions, or understandings. The command of God is not to “agree to disagree”, nor to limit our associations by local or denominational membership, nor to accept whatever others want to believe or do that violates God’s word, nor to divide beliefs into core and non-core theologies that don’t exist in Scripture, nor to limit our participation to what we find comfortable, but instead to “seek to agree with one another” under the sole headship of Christ our Lord.
Christians are meant to belong to the same body and grow together in holy unity by constantly bringing our differences of understanding and practice to review and adjustment under the commands of “hold to my teachings”, and of “put the interests of others ahead of your own”.
Is your mirror being kind to you today? Either way, you now see what needs to be done.